Pandemic Diary: January 23rd, 2021: Happy Birthday to Me

My brother called me this morning at 9:00 a.m.. I had slept in, and he left a message for me to call him. When I did get up later this morning, I saw that he had called, and since he telephones me so infrequently (we usually text), my first thought is that it was an emergency, and I called him back.

Only to have him wish me a happy birthday! I had completely forgotten that today is my 57th birthday!! I told him on the phone, as we shared a good laugh, that every day is so much like every other day while I have been working from home in self-isolation for my university library system during the pandemic. All my days tend to run together!

As a birthday present, the Manitoba government has slightly lifted a few restrictions in our province-wide, code-red pandemic lockdown, which has been in place since early November.

Each household can now have a maximum of two external visitors (and no, they can’t be two different people every time; it has to be the same two people). And stores selling non-essential items (books, clothing, consumer electronics, etc.) can now reopen, provided they operate at 25% of their normal store capacity and practice social distancing, face masking, etc.

The timing is perfect, as my trusty iPad 2 has finally bit the dust. I had used it almost every day for the past ten years; the thing was built like a tank! I often would use it to watch Netflix movies or TV, while lying on my sofa in the evenings.

There is a (single) Apple store way up here in the frozen prairie hinterlands of Winnipeg, but I may opt to do my shopping online instead, as I did for my Valve Index. I really don’t feel comfortable walking into any shopping mall right now, even with a face mask and practicing social distancing.

Canada is experiencing delays in vaccine production and delivery, and I am becoming extremely worried about all the new coronavirus variants popping up in the U.K., South Africa, and many other places. It is possible that many vaccines and vaccine candidates will have to be rejigged to handle at least some of these mutations of the virus. The very thought makes me anxious. We are not out of the woods yet! A Manitoba doctor tweeted the following disheartening update yesterday:

Oh, and the Manitoba provincial government also announced that barbers and hair stylists were allowed to reopen, too, provided they adhere to the same restrictions as stores, plus take contact information on all their customers, in case any contact tracing is needed. My mother will be so happy; she has wanted to get her hair cut and styled!

So, next weekend, I will drive across the city to pay a socially-distanced visit to my mother and stepfather at their seniors life-lease condo, and we will finally exchange our Christmas presents, a month late! And I will receive my mom’s birthday present; I told her cash would be a perfectly acceptable gift! (I don’t want to set foot in a bank, or touch a germy ATM number pad, if I don’t have to, and having a little spending money in my wallet can come in handy at times.)

I am still struggling with depression and anxiety at times, but I am coping as best as I can. I hope that you are staying safe and healthy!

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary, January 18th, 2021

Today is officially Day 309 of my working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system: 309 days, or 7,416 hours, or 444,960 minutes.

I have not left my home in the past month, except to drop my trash bags into the nearest dumpster, and to start the engine on my car in the parking lot and let it run for 10-15 minutes, to make sure that my car battery doesn’t lose its charge during our bitterly cold Winnipeg winter. (As a matter of fact, I am typing the first part of this blogpost out on my WordPress app on my iPhone, sitting behind the steering wheel of my car in my apartment’s outdoor parking lot, while my car is warming up.)

I’ve actually completely lost track of how long it’s been since I’ve been in the vicinity of another human being! The province of Manitoba is still under a code-red pandemic lockdown, and I don’t expect that any of the social distancing and other restrictions will be relaxed or lifted anytime soon. Vaccination is still mostly limited to front-line healthcare workers, and it is happening here at a frustratingly slow pace, with announcements of vaccine delivery delays by Pfizer over the next few weeks to add to the delays.


My car battery recharged, I come inside from the -18°C/-1°F cold, shed my parka, gloves, and face mask, and thoroughly wash my hands, singing Happy Birthday to myself twice under my breath.*

I have been going through a rough patch these past few weeks, which started as I concluded my Christmas holidays and returned to my full-time paying job with the University of Manitoba Libraries. I know that many people are in much worse circumstances than I am during this pandemic, and I know that I am lucky to be able to work from home. But I do not feel very lucky at the moment. All of the classic symptoms of depression are present: low mood, lack of motivation, insomnia.

My brand new Valve Index VR headset and my fancy Knuckles hand controllers sit on my desktop, infrequently used since I installed them in early January.

The Valve Index VR Headset

I do believe that using my then-new Oculus Rift headset four years ago was instrumental to my recovery from my last bout of serious clinical depression, as I wrote on my blog back in May 2018:

I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.

I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!

Now, I am not feeling as depressed as I did four years ago, but I can already see the warning signs. Therefore, I intend to slip on my Valve Index and explore as many social VR platforms, games, and creative apps as I can over the next few long, cold months, as a sort of preventative inoculation against isolation, depression and acedia. And, of course, blogging about them here.

Stay tuned for reports from my virtual excursions and adventures!


*No, today is not my birthday; I only sang Happy Birthday twice because that is how long you are supposed to wash your hands for. My actual birthday is on January 23rd (hint, hint, hint).

UPDATE January 20th, 2021: Wow! Somebody sent me a $50 Amazon gift card! Thank you!! The gift is much appreciated, and will definitely be put to good use. 🙂

Editorial: Shifting Gears

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Yesterday’s blogpost (and its response) has got me thinking, in the wee hours of this morning, about other people’s expectations, and trying (or failing) to live up to them. Not to mention the expectations which I, knowingly or unknowingly, place upon myself as a blogger. Every blogger has his or her own biases and quirks; God knows I have many. And even a cursory inspection of my output shows how often I have gone off on tangents in my three-and-a-half-year blogging journey.

My writing about social VR, virtual worlds and the metaverse on this blog has been an unusual combination of broad-brush strokes about as many different platforms as possible, combined with a geeky deep-dive into specific worlds (Sansar the first couple of years, and now Second Life). One example of such a deep dive would be my recent month-long coverage of Advent calendar freebies in Second Life, something which my many faithful SL readers no doubt appreciated, but which probably left some of my regular, non-SL audience out in the cold, scratching their heads.

As I have written before, I consider Second Life to be the perfect model of a fully-evolved, mature metaverse platform, where we can see hints of what will happen to newer platforms over time (such as the implementation of an in-world economy where players can buy and sell user-generated content).

But I also expect that 2021 will be the first year where other metaverse platforms (notably VRChat and Rec Room, but also other products) will begin to consistently outpace Second Life, both in terms of monthly active users (MAU) and in terms of user concurrency figures. Over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, VRChat shattered its previous user concurrency figures, reporting over 40,000 users online at the same time. Last weekend, Rec Room hosted 45,000 concurrent players. In other words, depending on the day and time, you can find more people in Rec Room and VRChat than in Second Life.

Both VRChat and Rec Room are now very well positioned to finally snatch the mantle of Second Life for the title of “most popular metaverse platform” (as hard as it is to define what that means). This might not have happened as quickly as some observers had originally predicted, least of all the PR pitch-boys at the corporations building these platforms, but it will happen nonetheless. It’s inevitable. Yesterday’s boasts become tomorrow’s reality, in some cases.

And it is not that Second Life is bleeding users, or that it is in any imminent danger of being shut down; I estimate that SL still attracts anywhere between 600,000 and 900,000 active monthly users (that is, people who sign onto SL at least once a month). It is still a highly profitable platform with a highly committed userbase, and under its new management, the Waterfield investment group, it is likely to remain a profitable cash cow for many years to come. Second Life is not going anywhere.

But, now that Linden Lab has finally shut down its physical server farms and moved Second Life entirely to the cloud, I don’t really foresee a lot of changes or improvements being made to what is already a winning formula—and I don’t see many of SL’s users clamouring for any major changes, either. Over time, competing platforms will no doubt offer advantages which the aging SL codebase cannot be tweaked to provide (the most obvious one being support for users in virtual reality).

And, over time, some of Second Life’s user base will migrate to other platforms, little by little, bit by bit. This SL diaspora will continue to enrich multiple metaverse platforms, much as it already has over the past decade. The seeds first planted by Philip Rosedale and his peers will continue to root and grow in various places, some probably quite unexpected!

All of this preamble is my very roundabout way of saying that I will be significantly reducing my coverage of Second Life in 2021. I will be putting that time and energy into writing about other metaverse products instead. Yes, I know I keep saying that, only to get pulled back by the latest fabulous freebie! Second Life is great fun, and I have enjoyed being your Freebie Queen. But frankly, SL is not where most of the interesting new stuff is happening. It’s happening in places outside of Second Life, and it’s high time I turned my attention to them.

It’s time for me to re-shift my focus to the newer platforms which are seeking to become the next Second Life. It might be an iteration of something that already exists, or it might be something brand new that seems to come out of nowhere and take everybody by storm. Whatever happens, I want to report on it!

I’m sure many of my Second Life readers will be sorry to hear this news. I will still be around, and I will still be visiting various places in-world, but I will largely leave the writing and reporting about SL to the hundreds of bloggers who do a much better job with their focused, deep-dive coverage! And I will continue to take as wide a view as possible—a big-picture perspective—of the constantly-evolving metaverse of which Second Life is a part.

Whichever camp you find yourself in, thank you for sticking along for the ride! No matter what happens, it promises to be an exciting adventure.

2021 promises to be a wild ride!

This change in focus will take effect immediately. Buckle up and keep your arms and hands inside the vehicle at all times! 😉

UPDATED: Beating the January Bleahs (and Responding to My Anonymous Commenter)

Bleah.

I have entered the new year under a black cloud, partly due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and partly due to following the U.S. political news a little too obsessively this past week. Since I have little control over the former and zero control over the latter, I have decided that it’s time for me to take a break from the news media and social media once again. It’s making me depressed.

I also have quite a few tasks associated with my return to work at the University of Manitoba Libraries, which will probably require that I take a break from blogging. So I am going to give myself a holiday from the blog for a little while, to focus on my full-time paying job and a few other things that need doing around the apartment. It’s time.

I’ll be back just as soon as I find the time and that elusive creative spark!

UPDATE 11:41 p.m. An anonymous commenter left the following comment on this blogpost:

You should just give up your blog altogether, it’s pretty crappy and a waste of time for the readers. you keep saying your “taking a break” this month, no, this month, no, this month ……………. no-one will care if you just go away.

I beg to differ, but obviously somebody is sufficiently irritated to respond in this way. Last year I learned a hard but very valuable lesson: that the negative comments you receive are just as important as the positive ones. If nobody cares, then why bother commenting at all? Hmmmm. There’s a saying: throw a stone into a pack of dogs, and the one that yelps loudest is the one you hit.

I hate to break it to you, princess, but I am not going anywhere.